Last Halloween, a certain costume trend seemed to be in. Parties were filled with gold blond wigs, jet-black pantsuits, and dark purply lipstick — an instantly recognizable homage to Southfield-based attorney Joumana Kayrouz. Her image is imprinted into the psyche of Detroit, thanks to years of sustained multimillion-dollar billboard advertising.
She’s lovingly embraced the meme, sharing many of the costumes to her Instagram story, just as she’s rolled with the punches thrown at her since she became a fixture on our highways — to date, she has appeared on over 750 buses and 250 billboards, and in 2014, she commissioned the largest outdoor marketing campaign in the history of Michigan advertising.
“All the other law firms were investing their money in TV and radio,” says Bill Dobreff, a Sterling Heights lawyer who’s shared cases with Kayrouz and represented her for nearly 10 years. “She went out and did these giant highway signs, and that’s what built the empire. It was a brilliant marketing technique. And all the other injury law firms tried to follow suit.”
Last year, she celebrated the 20th anniversary of her law firm, which specializes in personal injury, bankruptcy, criminal, and family law and has offered immigration services since 2018. Since she opened shop, Kayrouz and her staff have closed or settled over 10,000 cases and won about half a billion dollars in legal funds on behalf of clients.
Around 2000, she launched an Arabic-language program on 690/680 WNZK-AM, aimed at helping working-class immigrants — mostly non-English speakers — navigate the American legal system as well as everyday issues like credit cards, mortgages, and insurance. She’s still on air more than 20 years later, with a full hour on 102.3 CINA-FM every day of the week except Saturday.
Kayrouz was born and raised in Lebanon and immigrated to the U.S. with her then-husband when she was 21, with just $1,000. She completed her bachelor’s degree at Southern Connecticut State University, received a master’s of ethics from Yale University, and obtained her Juris Doctor from Wayne State University in 1997.
It’s an impressive feat of upward mobility, which she says was made possible through devotion to her Christian faith.
From afar, she may “come across like a movie star,” Dobreff says. Despite her larger-than-life image, with clients “she’s personable. She cares, and people trust her.”
“A lot of people give us lawyers a bad rap — you hear the lawyer jokes and all that,” Kayrouz says. “Some lawyers are unethical; it is true. But it is through the power of lawsuits that we make laws change.”
She herself has helped change laws through advocacy, writing to Michigan legislators in favor of two bills that passed in 2013. Public Acts 218 and 219 prohibit “ambulance chasing,” preventing personal injury lawyers from using a third party to solicit recently injured clients. However, 10 years after they took effect, the laws “don’t have a lot of teeth,” she confesses, due to lack of enforcement.
Kayrouz approaches personal injury law with a larger picture in mind. “Our purpose is to prevent injury in the future, … causing people to rethink the way they are doing business, causing the companies to rethink the products they are putting out,” Kayrouz says. “But when that fails, what else can we do? We get money for our injured clients.”
Her compassion extends to her personal life. The mother of two daughters gave a sizable donation to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in 2014. The previous year, she launched the Joumana Kayrouz Foundation, which has helped fund an overhaul and rebuilding of an emergency room in Zahlé, Lebanon, as well as the creation of an ear, nose, and throat clinic. Locally, in addition to pro bono work, she gave substantial support to Garden City Hospital, which opened a new birthing center in 2014.
In 2019, Kayrouz was admitted to the U.S. Supreme Court Bar, an honor that still makes her light up. As Chief Justice John Roberts formally recognized her, she says her “entire life up to that point flashed” before her eyes.
“Here was this little girl who came from the Middle East, from a developing country,” Kayrouz says. “I had all the reasons not to make it. I’m a foreigner; English is my third language. This little girl made it there.”
This story is part of the 2024 Hour Detroiters package, our annual roundup of people who make Motown better, more interesting, and more fun. Learn more about our Hour Detroiters here, and read more stories from the January 2024 issue here.